Northern Ireland’s (NI’s) agriculture minister, Edwin Poots has met the Ulster Farmers’ Union and representatives from the grain and fertiliser industry to discuss the impact that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is having on food-supply chains in the north.

Having recognised the impact of the invasion on the NI agri-food sector in terms of rising feed and fertiliser costs, labour-supply problems, energy price hikes and supply-chain disruption, the minister has requested officials to hold Agri-Food Industry Forum meetings on a weekly basis.

Initially established to consider issues and responses to Covid-19, the meetings will now focus on addressing the current serious impacts in the food-supply chains and, in particular, the impact of the current crisis in the Ukraine.

“I am keen to support our agri-food industry by understanding its pressures and identifying what mitigations can be put in place,” said Minister Poots.

“We are in a crisis now and I feel it will get worse. The main concerns expressed by the primary producers are the continued increase in energy, fuel and grain prices.

“There are concerns in industry about the cost and availability of grain and fertiliser. I believe grain and fertiliser prices will remain high beyond this year into next year and perhaps into 2024,” he added.

“I am already lobbying the UK government to consider the 25% tariff on maize for export from the US and I will raise the issue of nitrogen application limits to agricultural land with my officials.”

This week, the minister also briefed the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee on the issues and told them:

“This is a UK-wide problem and an issue for the UK Government to take forward. I have written to the Secretary of State, George Eustice MP, to urgently consider a range of measures, including financial assistance for UK farmers to support them through the crisis.”

Minister Poots has also written to the finance minister asking for financial assistance for the agri-sector to enable it to deal with the rising costs that are impacting on their businesses.

Alternative sources of fertiliser and feed stuffs must also be looked at, Minister Poots said, adding that he was very keen to urgently look at sustainable options such as organic fertilisers from sources such as anaerobic digestor plants in addition to the use of chemical fertilisers.